Tagged journey

Mapping Migrant Journeys

– by Sumita Chakravarty

There is a kind of matter-of-factness in the voices we hear in Bouchra Khalili’s The Mapping Journey Project, a series of eight videos that is currently installed in an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Each video is projected on a screen and as we move from screen to screen, we hear the accompanying story in the migrant’s own voice. The videos were shot between 2008 and 2011, and depict via lines on a map the journeys undertaken by various individuals as they cross borders and head towards Europe and north America in hopes of employment and “a better life.” The clandestine nature of these crossings is reflected in the stylistic choice made by Khalili to show only a hand holding a marker and a voice in monotone recollecting each stage of the journey. From Bangladesh and Afghanistan, Morocco, Algeria and Libya, Sudan and Somalia these migrants have made their way to Greece and Italy, Spain, France, and beyond. By now it is a familiar story – of danger, desperation, sometimes death. Yet the very simplicity of the conception and format of this project (a static map, a hand moving a pen, a voice) brings each detail of the narration into high relief. We shudder as we wonder what it means to take one’s life into one’s own hands in quite this way!7.21.16-Khalili3


The journey has long been a topos for the experience of migrants as they move across space and time. Countless novels and stories take us on exciting, dangerous, and life-changing journeys. The visual media of film and television have quickened the tempo and content of such journeys, though not necessarily enlarging the language of the form itself. The “European migration crisis” of 2015-16 has settled into a predictable set of images in which the boat, the sea, the brown and black bodies, the orange outfits of coastguards, and barbed wire enclosures quickly tell the story. However, in the age of social media, migrants themselves now have the means to document their own journeys, and to be the bearers of their own voice. What Khalili’s project does is to bring some of these anonymous voices into the museum space, to explore migration as art, perhaps of a new kind.

The relationship of artistic work to migration is a complicated one, for it involves striking a balance, for the viewer, between the familiar and the distant, the local and the global. There seem to be two choices available to the visual artist: the first is documentary in impulse, the desire or need to document migration as a process through actual or recreated journeys; the second takes a more personal and reflective approach, as in Mona Hatoum’s Measures of Distance (1988), or uses the concepts of exile and displacement as universal states of being that can affect anyone anywhere (as in her later works of sculpture and installation). Regardless of the choice an artist makes, the most provocative works make us think more deeply about our own times and the everyday objects and discourses that surround us.

Khalili uses the familiar tourist map on which the migrants’ simple act of tracing a line becomes emblematic of tectonic shifts of culture and politics in the contemporary world. As Quinn Latimer notes, “To trace one’s own displacement and steady dispossession, to make sense of it, to find its form— and thus to disregard the forms and limits, cartographic or other, that were allotted to you by place of birth, color of skin, social class and wealth, gender or sexual orientation—is to lay claim to basic rights of agency, autonomy, desire, labor, and, most definitively, movement.” She also notes that Khalili eschews the migrant’s face in favor of the voice, for facial visibility is linked to (state) surveillance. Thus the artist focuses on the hand and the voice, both of which have long been used as symbols of autonomy and empowerment.

But what of the map? How does the map, presented as literal and aesthetic “ground,” feature in the triad of relationships (map, hand, voice) that these videos represent? Maps and mapping have become ubiquitous in everyday life in the digital age; they are also increasingly key forms of inquiry into our ways of understanding the world. One interesting fact that has emerged in recent discussions is the tendency of mapping techniques to enable certain kinds of information and not others. For instance, movement is easily depicted, but other forms of less tangible information are harder to map. There is an inevitable flattening out of context, a diminution of nuance. I am wondering how this affects our apprehension of the migrant journeys. Against the “inertness” of the maps is set the dynamism of movement, the overcoming of obstacles. The heroic individual occupies the foreground while the map, as both static and solidly in place, looms in the background.

But if maps are to be meaningful, they must evoke some of the emotions that we attach to places, familiar and unfamiliar. The mapping journey project, while inspiring, is incomplete. It lacks the reciprocity of place, the bustling sense of human presence and immediacy. More than movement and journey, those isomorphic tropes of the migration story, we are now in need of other kinds of mappings, marked not by contingency but by expanded notions of community and identity.

Emigration Museum in Gdynia, Poland

“The history of departures from the Polish lands is hundreds of years old. People traveled to different parts of the world for sustenance, in search of freedom, or for a different life. After Poland regained its independence, this situation remained unchanged. The journey was tackled on foot, by rail, aboard ships or – later – airplanes. After Poland joined the European Union, emigration became the experience of a generation of millions of young Poles. Today, almost everyone knows someone who chose emigration.

Gdynia is witnessing the birth of the first museum in the country dedicated to the history of Polish emigration. From the initiative of the city’s authorities, the historical edifice of the Marine Station – which witnessed the departures of Polish ocean liners for decades – is now seeing the birth of an institution which will recount the migrations and fates of Poles in the world in close connection to the modernity. The history of emigration is being written every day. Its multiple dimensions will be presented through our permanent exhibition.

The mission of the Emigration Museum in Poland is to recount the fates of millions of both anonymous and famous people – whose names emerge in the context of great achievements in science, sports, business, and the arts. It is the ambition of this institution to make them known to Poles at home, but it is also to encourage our compatriots living at home and abroad to get to know each other. Through educational and cultural projects, the museum hopes to become a place of encounter and discussion.”

Visit the Museum’s website here.

MSNBC Special: Damned for Trying

The largest flow of modern African migration funnels through a single country — Libya.

Coming from the south, migrants flee the vestiges of wars that have left entire nations in ruin. From the east, they escape a life of indefinite military servitude and violent conflict. From the west, they evade destitution and governments that arbitrarily jail whomever they please.

Some arrive by choice, others by force. But Libya is the purgatory where most migrants prepare to face the deadliest stretch of the Mediterranean Sea.

Click here to see the full project.

Syrian Refugee’s Viral Story Found Him a Home

“Mohsen’s story went viral after he was filmed being tripped up by a camerawoman as he fled police near the Hungarian border with Serbia last September. He was carrying his youngest son Zaid, then 7, in his arms at the time, and the two fell sprawling on the ground.

Footage of the incident helped bring him to the attention of a soccer training school in Getafe on the outskirts of Madrid, which found him work as a liaison officer. Zaid, now a year older, as well as 17-year-old Mohammed, who was in Germany at the time, live in the neighborhood with their father.

Mohsen’s wife and two other children remain in Mersin, southern Turkey. The family left the war-torn Syrian town of Deir el-Zor together around four years ago.

“I see my future here,” says Mohsen, whose eyes light up when talking, in broken English, about the local junior team he sometimes helps train, Villaverde-Boetticher.”

Read more from The New York Post

Immigrant Nation

Immigrant Nation explores our connections to immigration, past and present, through storytelling. At the heart of the project is a simple idea: the U.S. is a nation shaped by immigration, and most families have personal story about it. These stories, whether they happened generations ago or quite recently, are not often shared. We want to bring them to the surface – exploring the interconnectedness of these narratives.

Immigrant Nation has three components: the web site, a series of short documentary films, and live events in schools, museums, libraries, film festivals and other public spaces designed to engage diverse communities in sharing their immigrant stories.”

Click here to visit the site.

A visual guide to 75 years of major refugee crises around the world

“The conflict in Syria has now displaced 12 million people, creating the largest wave of refugees to hit Europe since World War II. But in the last half century, other events around the world have pushed even larger numbers of people to flee war and persecution. Here’s a brief guide to the major refugee events in recent history — mouse over each bubble to see what it represents.”

Click here to visit the visualizations site, created by The Washington Post.

Bouchra Khalili: The Mapping Journey Project

Bouchra Khalili: The Mapping Journey Project
Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY
April 9–August 28, 2016

This exhibition presents, in its entirety, Bouchra Khalili’s The Mapping Journey Project (2008–11), a series of videos that details the stories of eight individuals who have been forced by political and economic circumstances to travel illegally and whose covert journeys have taken them throughout the Mediterranean basin. Khalili (Moroccan-French, born 1975) encountered her subjects by chance in transit hubs across Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. Following an initial meeting, the artist invited each person to narrate his or her journey and trace it in thick permanent marker on a geopolitical map of the region. The videos feature the subjects’ voices and their hands sketching their trajectories across the map, while their faces remain unseen.

The stories are presented on individual screens positioned throughout MoMA’s Donald B. and Catherine C. Marron Atrium. In this way, a complex network of migration is narrated by those who have experienced it, refusing the forms of representation and visibility demanded by systems of surveillance, international border control, and the news media. Shown together, the videos function as an alternative geopolitical map defined by the precarious lives of stateless people. Khalili’s work takes on the challenge of developing critical and ethical approaches to questions of citizenship, community, and political agency.

Visit MOMA for more information and to plan your visit.

The Deadly Journey From Libya’s Migrant Jails

From VICE News:

“Desperate to escape conflict and poverty, thousands of migrants and refugees attempt the perilous journey to Europe each year, with many crossing the Mediterranean Sea from North Africa in rubber dinghies and wooden boats.

In the wake of the decommissioning of Mare Nostrum, a search and rescue operation run by Italy, the humanitarian organization Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), launched their own vessel, named the Bourbon Argos, to find those stranded at sea and save those in trouble on one of the deadliest routes to Europe.”

Read More from VICE here.

Mediterranea (2015)

MEDITERRANEA by Jonas Carpignano, USA 2015:
Ayiva recently left his home in Burkina Faso in search of a way to provide for his sister and his daughter. He takes advantage of his position in an illegal smuggling operation to get himself and his best friend Abas off of the continent. Ayiva adapts to life in Italy, but when tensions with the local community rise, things become increasingly dangerous. Determined to make his new situation work he attempts to weather the storm, but it has its costs.
(Taken from Youtube)

Light on the Sea

Light on the Sea: One Woman’s Story from the Front Lines of the Refugee Crisis

This documentary takes us to the front lines of the world’s refugee crisis as Neda, a Syrian American, helps refugees coming from boats into Lesbos, Greece. No media spin. No politics. Just people who want to live. Credits: Directed and produced by Micah Garen and Marie-Hélène Carleton.